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Trump is a loud racist, don’t let him deafen you to your own racism
It’s a word that causes the dominant race to recoil in fear. As if they are frightened turtles, they hide in their shells. It’s treated as an insult, an attack, and impossible scenario, one beyond the realm of possibility. What am I talking about? Racism. People in power, in my experience, are very concerned with racism and ensuring that they are not called a racist. Because to the empowered person, “racist” is almost like a racial slur unto itself. Are they interested in destroying race-based power structures? Not necessarily, because in doing so they need confront their own racism and how they fundamentally contribute to the problem of power and privilege. But they are, again, particularly concerned with not being racist. When they are confronted with racism, they often “gaslight” the oppressed person making the accusation (that is, attempt to convince the oppressed person that they are crazy), or force them to redefine racism, or use “softer” language.
The last year and half has been a textbook example of the aforementioned problem. We just saw it last week. Donald Trump called a variety of nation-states (where primarily black and brown people reside) shitholes (and yes, the AP clarified that “shithole” is indeed just one word). Don Lemon of CNN called him a racist straight up. Many of us already knew this, but Trump’s proclamation was still the most openly racist statement a president has made in decades. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump proclaimed he was the “least racist” person. The collective gaslighting of the news made as “fake news,” adds to the narrative.
The trouble is even when a flagrantly racist president claims he is not racist, we can certainly expect more “woke” white liberals to further eschew that term. We were watching Dear White People (the Netflix series) the other day and we saw it again. Here’s the scene: A frat party where there is a mix of races. A hip-hop song with the n-word in its lyrics comes on the radio. A white man rapping along uses the n-word, and receives some assertive feedback from a black man that he shouldn’t use that word. The black man never even utters the word “racist” in his admonishment, but still the white man feels attacked and a fight breaks out (suffice it to say, the police break up the party which ends with a black man being held up at gun point—far too typical).
But that moment where “racist” is an attack, but using the n-word casually is not. That’s a moment we need to overcome if we are to address racism in the United States at large, and in our churches and institutions locally. We can’t be afraid of the sin we are committing if we want to stop doing it. It’s not enough to just avoid being called it, we must confront it. There are many ways to do this, but I think humility and listening is the first step.
I resonate with Martin Luther King when he said, “So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo.” We need to do better and I think we can.
In the United States the sin of racism impacts all we experience. It is a fact of life for which the dominators are accountable.
Overcoming racism in the United States is a major challenge. It is a sin that covers everything it touches. Though it is most evil in its systemic form for which the dominators are accountable (as our proverb says), racial prejudice is something we all suffer from. We are all in recovery. If we can acknowledge that, I think we’ll be much less defensive when we have to face the reality of our racism.
I know most of my readers are not as racist as Donald Trump, or not as flagrant. And the president’s public presence has brought the most racist people into the mainstream (in many cases bona-fide neo-Nazis!). But I think everyone in power is tempted by the trappings of racism. Sometimes racial deconstruction can seem pedantic, too detailed, or too sensitive. As a result we are quick to dismiss it. Furthermore, the prophetic voices that are wild enough to confront the powers and speak truth to them are often accused of being crazy (and sometimes, they might suffer from depression, anxiety, or trauma). That doesn’t mean that what they are saying is wrong.
Even the loudest criticism is worth listening to. No one likes to be criticized. Some of us spend our whole twenties and thirties (and maybe forties, fifties, and sixties) avoiding criticism! When it comes to avoiding criticism with regard to our racial prejudice, individually and institutionally, we do ourselves a disservice, but we also do the victims of racism a disservice around us, too.
For people of color, I think there is a time to be loud and quiet and we have to be strategic (but no less passionate) about how we address the racism that’s around us. Some prophetic voices seem deafening, but keep listening to them; they are saying something important. If it makes us anxious to hear it, we should especially take note. But for those in power, generally white people, they need to be humble enough to hear the worst of it, and quiet enough to listen to the voices that aren’t so loud, but are also suffering. We are all in recovery, and if we don’t acknowledge that, we’ll have an even longer way to go. And further to fall, as well.
There’s a lot of noise in the world. Trump is loud as can be. And his flagrant racism may make more subtle, and therefore more sinister forms, of racism less obvious. Pay attention. The enemy loves to divide us through our pride. And no one ever wants to be wrong, and especially not racist.